Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blog Comments – A late reply

I missed comments made about two of my earlier blogs (see: “Inherently Safer Technology, Pros and Cons” and “DHS 2009 Budget Released”); something that no blogger should do. Fortunately they were both by the same person so I only had to send one email apology. I think that I have fixed the problem that caused me to miss the comments when they were made. Having gotten that out of the way, let’s look at the comments.


In his comments on inherently safer technology (IST) Thomkay07 pointed out the large number of facilities that could affect 1,000 or more people with a chemical release. The key point, I think, that he made is:


“I'm a more moderate advocate of IST than many, in that I have a great deal of appreciation of the economic concerns of the businesses effected (sic) by this legislation. However, I believe that there is too much at stake to simply hope that each of the thousands of chemical facilities across the country will take the initiative to eliminate off-site risk.”

Cost Benefit Analysis


There will always be a trade off between cost and risk. Every business makes cost-benefit analyses every day. The problem in this case is how to make a chemical facility internalize the risk to the population outside of its gates. One sure way to do that is to impose a corporate responsibility to protect those people. That is what CFATS does. It establishes the responsibility and imposes an outside judgment on the adequacy of that protection.


Facilities have not yet established the cost of that responsibility. Because DHS was prohibited from specifying (correctly in my mind) security procedures, it will take some time for facilities to arrive at an acceptable (to DHS) response to the threat. Only then will they know what their cost will be. If the cost is too high for their business model, they will take a hard look at alternatives, including IST to reduce their costs.


IST from a Chemical Company’s Perspective


Another way of looking at this (from the chemical company perspective) was put forth yesterday in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008. Dr. David C. Pulham of Siegfried (USA), Inc was asked to testify about his company’s experience with the New Jersey chemical security rules, specifically their IST requirements. In his testimony he said:


“Securing our products is an ongoing responsibility. So is complying with the comprehensive system of existing state and Federal laws. These regulatory regimes require extensive process hazard analysis, risk management planning, and public reporting on chemicals we handle on-site and, in some cases, prior to handling them on-site. We feel that these regulations, complemented by our own process-safety decision making, provide a concrete and meaningful level of consequence reduction at all stages in the product lifecycle.”


IST analysis should always be part of a chemical facility’s safety and security considerations. All companies do it to one extent or another; the successful companies do a better job of it than do their competitors. The CFAT regulations will make that more apparent.


Water Treatment Facilities


In his comments on the second blog, Thomkay07 posed the following:


“You talked about IST before, and I wonder what you think about the implementation of IST, at least at water treatment facilities where ultraviolet rays and onsite bleach have proven to be successful.”


Chlorine gas injection is the most common water disinfection process used in the United States (and likely the world). It is a mature, well understood technology. The relationship between the water flow rate, the chlorine injection rate and level of disinfection is well understood. This means that monitoring the two variables allows a certain assurance of the outcome. This, in turn, allows for a much reduced rate of biological testing of the water.


Ultra-violet radiation of drinking water is another successful treatment method. Unfortunately there are more variables that need to be controlled and it is difficult to do real-time measurement of some of the variables. This means that it is harder to assure adequate disinfection; not impossible, just harder.


Sodium Hypochlorite (Bleach) is an alternative method of chlorine injection that does not require storage of chlorine gas. Under current DHS rules this would be a preferable technique since bleach is not listed in Appendix A.


Unfortunately this overlooks the reactivity of bleach. Bleach at industrial concentrations reacts violently and even explosively with other chemicals found at many water treatment facilities. A byproduct of that reaction is chlorine gas. This may make a bleach disinfection plant more of a target because the water treatment plant would be physically damaged while releasing chlorine gas, giving the terrorist both short term and long term effects from their attack.


In short, there is in water treatment the same cost benefit analysis that must be made when considering IST. Smaller utilities with ground water sources may use small, 100-lb chlorine cylinders at their pumping stations with relatively little thought to chlorine release. Larger utilities with centralized treatment facilities may find it more effective to utilize bleach or UV treatment. The largest centralized facilities may find it more cost effective to electrically generate their chlorine on site from sodium chloride to avoid the large storage tanks of chlorine gas. In each case the decision will have to be made on a facility by facility basis.


Utilities constructing new facilities will find it easier to do the cost benefit analysis leading to a more secure facility. Retrofitting for security will be something that most utilities will have a hard time justifying. Utilities operate on a very narrow margin and changing treatment technologies will be very expensive. Since to date there has been no attack on a chemical facility in the United States, it will be difficult to convince voters to increase their water rates to improve security.


IST Cannot be Imposed


The bottom line is that I cannot think of a legitimate way for the government to impose a realistic IST requirement. There are too many variables involved in making the legitimate business decision on what processes a company will use to make their product. Any rule that completely takes that decision out of the hands of the business people will drive manufacturers out of the country. They would have a legal responsibility to their stock holders to do so.


Anything short of that will be unenforceable. There is no government agency that would have the expertise or manpower to do the requisite analysis to decide if a company’s decision not to employ some IST was reasonable. In the end it would be a meaningless paperwork exercise that woulddetract from other efforts to protect the facility from a terrorist attack.


The only way that I can see to make IST a more acceptable option for more facilities is the course that DHS is currently on. If we make the facility responsible for the safety of their neighbors, fairly and equitably responsible, and make them pay the costs of that responsibility, then more facilities will take a harder look at how IST could make their costs lower.

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